Gardens with Wings: Significance of Butterflies in Association with Cemeteries

Butterflies, like moths, are the adult flying stage of any numerous species of insects belonging to an order called Lepidoptera.  Aside from folding their wings vertically up over their backs as opposed to holding their wings in a tent-like fashion that veils the abdomen, butterflies in the main are larger and have more colorful patterns on their wings than moths.  Generally speaking, moths are smaller, have drab-colored wings, and tend toward stockier and furry bodies in contrast to their smooth and lean counterparts.  Ecologically and spiritually, butterflies are powerful creatures, and hold deep meaning across various cultures.

For many, butterflies offer spiritual guidance.  Creatures that represent change and development, butterflies symbolize transformation, metamorphosis, immortality, fertility, and joy.  The three stages of a butterfly’s life can be viewed as metaphors for life, death, and rebirth. The caterpillar signifies life, the cocoon represents death or a transition phase, and the butterfly, emerging like a phoenix, symbolizes resurrection or new life.  The butterfly lives a life in which it graduates from one form of bodily existence and function to another—from a caterpillar to a winged butterfly, virtually unrecognizable.

What does it mean when a butterfly lands on you at the cemetery?  Attracted to the flowers around gravesites, butterflies have traditionally symbolized the soul of the person who has passed.  Still widely respected symbols today, butterflies provide comfort to the bereaved.  A comforting image of endurance and hope, butterflies are often associated with departing souls.  With its iconic orange and black markings, the monach butterfly, one of the most recognizable butterfly species is renowned for its extraordinary migration.  Perhaps the greatest spectacle in the animal kingdom, the monarch butterfly performs an annual two-way migration of epic proportions, journeying thousands of miles between Canada and Mexico.  This phenomenal feat has made it a symbol of safe journey and survival against the odds.  Moreover, its short lifespan (adult butterflies live for about 15-29 days on average) accentuates the fleeting and precious nature of life, encouraging us to appreciate the now.

Offering a mirror to our transformation, these dreamy winged creatures, impart valuable symbolic messages that resonate deeply with the human experience.  The next time you see a butterfly silently fluttering by, take a moment to reflect upon the deep meaning the master of metamorphosis contains.